The purpose of having a police force is to ensure the safety of the local community. The police are responsible for making sure that people abide by the law and don’t cause harm to others. We teach our children to respect police officers, and appreciate the service they provide us.
Unfortunately in my experience practicing criminal and DUI law, there are too many times where the police have the opposite effect—they make us feel unsafe.
For one of my clients, the police created a nightmare situation for him just because Spanish was his first language, and he had trouble understanding what they were yelling at him in English.
Before I jump into this story I want to clarify that I’m not anti-cop. Not all cops are bad, and not all cops are good. That’s just the way it is. But I am anti bad cop. And this case was one of those situations where the cop couldn’t care less about justice.
My client, Juan, was from Venezuela. He and his family had been in this country for a few years now, but English was still difficult for him. In his profession he dealt mostly with South American companies, so at work and home he primarily spoke Spanish (which we all know is somewhat common in parts of South Florida).
When Juan and his wife got into an argument one night over his 22-year-old stepson, who is a disciplinary nightmare still living at home, the stepson (who did not like Juan at all) called the police hoping it would get Juan in trouble. Neither Juan nor his wife knew the police had even been called until an officer showed up on their doorstep.
Juan answered the door. His wife was standing a few feet behind him in the living room. Her face was flushed from yelling, but she had no bruising or marks anywhere on her body. The officer informed Juan that someone had called in to say there was a domestic violence situation.
Juan tried to explain that there must be a misunderstanding but the officer refused to listen. He started firing off incriminating questions at Juan in English. When Juan tried to explain that he couldn’t understand what the officer was asking, the officer placed him under arrest.
Juan’s wife started protesting when she saw the officer take out his handcuffs. But the officer didn’t listen to her either. He hauled Juan out to the cop car and took him down to the station for booking.
Once he saw the judge, Juan posted bail, but unfortunately he could not go home. There was a no contact order in place pursuant to the criminal charges against him, meaning he was unable to initiate any kind of communication with his wife.
That’s when I came into the situation. Now, I was able to get the charges against Juan dismissed, but the damage had already been done. He had a mug shot, which is almost impossible to get rid of, he had a criminal charge against him, spent the night in jail, and racked up expensive legal fees to pay. He also underwent a lot of stress, was afraid he might lose the ability to see his children, and was worried about potentially losing his job too.
And the really frustrating part of this situation is that if the cop had taken a few minutes to speak with both Juan and his wife at their home, this whole awful situation could have been avoided.